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Preventing pollution

EU laws are based on the principle that polluters must pay for the damage they cause.

Pollution can have severe health impacts. EU efforts concentrate on stopping pollution before it happens, and putting a price on itto make polluters responsible for their actions.

Every year hundreds of thousands of Europeans die prematurely from breathing polluted air. Industry, transport and domestic heating all contribute to air pollution, so we have measures to stop pollution before it actually happens.

There are success stories – recent decades have seen good progress with pollutants that cause acid rain. But Europe still has problems with tiny particles called particulate matter, and with ground-level ozone.

Particulate matter penetrates deep into the lungs, with serious consequences. EU legislation aims to ensure that levels will fall over time. The Commission takes this very seriously, and legal action has been taken to make Member States enforce their legislation properly.

We also need strong policies to protect waters, so the Water Framework Directive sets ambitious targets to get Europe's waters back to their natural state.

Other measures ensure that waste water is treated, that bathing waters are clean, drinking water is healthy, and that seas are unpolluted. Pollution from agriculture is also controlled, because when fertiliser washes out of fields and into the water, harmful algal blooms can result.

The EU has strong controls on chemicals too. Most production processes depend on chemicals, but some chemicals pose a risk to human health and the environment. The EU counters that threat with REACH, legislation that obliges industry to prove that chemicals put on the market are safe.

Data is made publicly available through a central database, and will help to close the current information gap on chemicals. There are also rules for phasing out the most dangerous chemicals.

Pollution always comes from somewhere. European environmental legislation is based on the "polluter pays" principle, which identifies the source of pollution and obliges polluters to pay for damage caused. This encourages businesses to remove harmful pollutants before any damage occurs.